When 54-year old amateur golfer Randy Lewis, from Alma, Michigan, drove up the famed Magnolia Lane leading to the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club, he was a competitor not a tourist, but still he says he drove very slowly in order to take it all in and make it last. He earned a dream invitation to compete inGeorgia against the world’s best and along some legendary players at this week’s Masters Tournament by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship last summer. Even those who manage to get the toughest ticket in sports to watch are among the elite few to get onto the greenest 300 acres in golf. Some practice round tickets are available each year though a lottery system at www.Masters.org. If you get there, you’ll see what Lewis saw. While the grounds down Magnolia lane inside the famed Augusta National are pristine, the club’s surroundings on Washington Road are not as idyllic; unless you consider the landscaping at Hooters and Krispy Kreme equal to the idyllic azaleas, dogwoods and pines of the so-called “cathedral in the pines.”
Most of the hotels in Augusta are of the standard, chain variety – all desperately overpriced for one week each year. Even broken down, fleabag barracks cost $240 for the night, often with a multiple-night minimum. As a journalist attending the event, I have the dubious memories to prove it.
Playing the highly private Augusta National is a near impossibility, and your logistical odds go down even further since the club is closed from May through October and 80-pecent of its very few corporate CEO members don’t even live in Augusta. For a truly authentic Augusta feel, though, there are some places which provide at least a sense of the golf experience.
– Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club and Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club near Pinehurst, North Carolina’s are two quaint resorts with classic Augusta-era 1920’s Donald Ross-designed courses steps outside charming lodging. Pine Needles hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens. The familiar flora, fauna and terrain give you the sense you are living and playing in a master painter’s dream creation. Log on to www.PineNeedles-MidPines.com or call (910) 692-7111.
– Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, in Choctaw, Mississippi, has azaleas and oaks, which is what its two Tom Fazio/Jerry Pate-designed 18 hole golf courses are named. Fazio has done redesign work at Augusta National, so he knows his way around this type of tree-lined, southern terrain. Visit DancingRabbitGolf.com or call (866) 447-3275
-International World Tour, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina offers 27 holes inspired by famous courses. ItsAugusta replica holes include “Amen Corner:” the 11th, 12th and 13th, complete with the iconic Hogan and Nelson bridges, plus the pivotal par-three 16th hole. Visit www.TheWorldTourGolf.com or call (877) 377-7773.
-Alister Mackenzie, who designed Augusta National with input from Bobby Jones, designed Michigan golf courses Crystal Downs, in Frankfurt, and the University of Michigan course in Ann Arbor, both private, but a but easier to sink your spikes into than the home of the Masters.